“Nothing is currently more important to the Merchant Venturers than seeing Bristol’s education system become one associated with high levels of achievement…” - Peter Rilett, Chairman of the Merchant Venturers Education Committee
For many years the Merchants’ contribution to local education focused on the Society’s two schools, Colston’s School and Colston’s Girls’ School.
The decision to sponsor one of the first Academies in Bristol through the conversion of Withywood Community School into Merchants’ Academy was a watershed for the Society, changing the course and ambition for its involvement in local education.
A further transformational decision by the Society was to make Colston’s Girls’ School an Academy. Significantly overscribed, Colston’s Girls’ School has become one of the nation’s most successful Academies, with its pupil numbers increasing from 400 to 1,500 and recording the best GCSE results for a non selective school in the South West.
The next step was to extend the Merchants’ involvement into Primary education, taking into the fold three Primary schools. First came Gay Elms in Withywood, which joined Merchants’ Academy. Then came Dolphin School and St Anne’s Primary School (renamed Kingfisher School) and finally Fairlawn Primary Academy, which will open in September 2015 - all three are run by Colston’s Girls School.
In addition, the Society is immensely proud of its continuing close association with Colston’s School in Stapleton. Now over 300-years-old, it is a successful independent school that provides a broadly-based and rich education to over 700 pupils and is very much part of the Merchants’ family of schools.
The Merchants’ Roots in Education
The Merchant Venturers have been involved in education in Bristol for at least 400 years — archival records show that they were running a school for the children of mariners as early as 1595. This grew into the Bristol Trade School in the 18th century, which subsequently became the Merchant Venturers’ School and later the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College.
When Bristol University was granted its Charter in 1909 the engineering department of the Technical College became the University’s Faculty of Engineering. Meanwhile, the Technical College became Bristol Polytechnic, the precursor of the University of the West of England.
In 1708 Edward Colston founded Colston’s School and endowed it, appointing the Merchant Venturers as managers of the endowment.
In 1891 Colston’s Girls’ School was created under the auspices of the same foundation. One hundred years later in 1991 Colston’s School became co-educational through its merger with the Collegiate School, Winterbourne. There is a significant Merchant Venturer representation on each of the governing bodies of both Colston’s Schools.
More recently the Merchant Venturers’ commitment to see a step change in the quality of secondary education in Bristol is reflected in its provision of skills and resources to the state sector.
The Merchants are involved in sponsoring and supporting the development of two Academies, which opened in September 2008.
A capital commitment of £2million was agreed by the Merchants’ in support of the new Merchants’ Academy in Withywood, which has replaced Withywood Community School. Significant additional capital and revenue support has also been provided by the Merchant Venturers for this project.
As a sponsor, the Merchants are heavily involved in all aspects of the Academy, chairing the Academy Trust and working closely with Bristol University (as co-sponsors), the Secretary of State for Education, Bristol City Council and the local community.
The Merchants also sponsor Colston’s Girls’ School, which became an Academy in September 2008. At the beginning of March 2008, this school became one of the UK’s first Independent schools to sign an Academy Funding Agreement.